Friday, May 4, 2012

National competitiveness and branding

The efforts to move beyond tourism and extend them to trade and investment branding and thus create a coherent national competitiveness campaign to promote the Philippines are indeed laudable [Business World, 16th Apr 2012]. “While people are assessing where they want to take their business and with whom they want to do business, we have to be able to project to them who we are... and we need to pitch something that’s credible.”

Indeed it is imperative to recognize that a campaign is not just a “slogan or a logo.” Azerbaijan, Croatia and Macedonia, to name just three, are aggressively airing their respective campaigns yet these countries are not getting the level of foreign investments they had hoped. At the end of the day, communication, which is what many people equate to marketing, starts with a product that is credible. And a credible product is effectively a concept where the campaign is anchored. And Apple (e.g., iPhone, iPad, etc.) is that kind of a credible product with a powerful concept where its campaign is anchored.

It appears the National Competitiveness Council is precisely carefully establishing how the Philippines could be defined as a credible product and thus a powerful concept where a campaign is to be anchored. The object of the exercise is the investor, but what does an investor seek? As Warren Buffett has said many times, I don’t invest in a business I don’t understand. Because investors want to ensure that their efforts will yield the optimum returns! And in an interconnected and highly competitive global economy, the only way they could optimize their returns is when they attain “competitive advantage.” Thus, the Philippine campaign must answer that challenge squarely: That investing in the Philippines is the way to the investor’s “nirvana” – of competitive advantage.

And to get there, investors want their ducks in a row. And that means beyond investment they are constantly raising their technology edge in order to attain the enviable position of creating truly innovative products and/or services. But they don’t come in a vacuum so they are constantly tapping and developing human resources, and developing target markets and, in sum, complete the “competitive-advantage loop.”

But the Philippines can’t be everything to everybody which is why the efforts to define our strategic industries must become a truly committed undertaking. Between concerned government agencies and the private sector like the JFC (Joint Foreign Chambers), for instance, there appears a growing list of strategic industries. This is where the exercise of academic rigor must be adhered to – we cannot allow crony capitalism to dictate this delicate process. Take energy and mining, for example. Are they strategic industries? What technologies must we then bring in to the country to pursue the undertaking? Which investors should we attract and invite?

A more targeted campaign is sharper and thus more effective than a shotgun campaign. For example, we must be able to spell out our strategic industries and the requisite support infrastructure and/or intermediate industries that we are developing in order to create a viable ecosystem.

Our history has been characterized by opportunism which is not representative of efforts to make an economy and a nation globally competitive. And the fiasco that is EPIRA and, more recently, mining are too real to ignore and be nonchalant about. Do we have the character and the spirit to pursue nation-building – which is what this branding initiative is supposed to be?

And so it appears we’re stuck at first base – struggling to attract investment and technology – in our nation-building efforts? How do we then move on to being recognized for innovation, for talent development, for product development and for market development? We want credibility and coherence . . . then we truly need to do our homework?

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